Saturday 29 April 2023

JJ's on Tour - Coogee to Bondi Coastal Walk, Sydney

Picking up from where I left off in my last post looking at the Australian National Maritime Museum, see link below, this post completes the look at Sydney and its sites during our stay in the city with a much needed break from the urban landscape and a desire to get back into the Great Australian Outdoors and being that Carolyn and I are used to seeing the beach and the sea most days, what better way than to head off to the coast. 

JJ's on Tour Australian National Maritime Museum

If you are coming to this post as a start point, then it is important to point out that this is just but one of a series of posts looking at Carolyn's and my tour across the Pacific from Vancouver on the west coast of Canada, via Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand and now looking at Australia, and the whole series can be picked up in the label - 'JJ's on Tour' in the right hand column.

Map courtesy of

On the particular day of this little excursion we first started with our visit to the Sydney Fish Market, covered in my post looking at the sites in Sydney, and following a hearty breakfast there, we hailed an Uber to take us out to Coogee on the east coast from where we planned to make the two to three hour, four mile walk, along the cliff path to the world famous Bondi Beach.

It's only a short drive from Sydney to the coast and the map above shows the route of our day's walk, along the cliffs from Coogee beach to Bondi Beach.

I must say I was looking forward to this change of environment with great anticipation, not really knowing what to expect, given that the hype surrounding famous places around the world doesn't always match up with a personal impression, and this was not exactly our first rodeo, having come via Hawaii and the hustle and bustle of Honolulu and Waikiki Beach.

Coogee Beach - It's not Torbay or 'Torbados' as us locals would call it, but the vibe is very familiar  

My first impression of stepping out of the taxi on the seafront at Coogee was one of a strange feeling of familiarity.

I knew from the accents of overheard snatches of conversation that I was definitely in Australia, but the whole environment seemed to me to be just like stepping out on to any other British style seafront, with readily recognisable architecture I might expect to see in Weston-Super-Mare or Brighton and the mid-morning overcast sky seemed to give an extra hint of summers back home as a kid.

Coogee Beach from a bygone era, packed with holiday makers, with a strong hint of familiarity for any Brit. 

If the Coogee Pier seen in the picture above from the early 1930's had still been around it would have put the final seal on my impression of familiarity, and I suppose I shouldn't have been that surprised given the likely heritage of the folks that built the town and their desire to create that familiarity with former homes.

All fresh and eager to walk, Carolyn and I thrilling to be back at the beach with that familiar air filling the nostrils.

Of course the other aspect that reminded me that this was definitely Australia was the local wildlife and my eye was immediately drawn to the distinctly different but often similar bird life to be seen as we headed off along the seafront to climb the cliff path on our way to Gordon's Bay, so named after the Governor Surveyor, Lewis Gordon who granted the neighbouring land of forty acres to himself in 1840 until its sale in 1859.

A Crested Pigeon, Ocyphaps lophotes, one of many to be seen patrolling the open areas alongside the path as we walked from Coogee to Gordon's Bay

The coastline along this walk is composed of solid granite cliffs giving way to beautiful sandy beach coves and wider bays that form the larger beaches, with areas of large boulders that form a breastwork against the formidable Tasman Sea; and reminded me of similar vistas to be seen walking the North Cornwall coast at home, substituting the crashing Tasman waves for those of the North Atlantic.

It was a gentleman called John Thompson, Mayor of Randwick in 1873, who bought Gordon's Bay in 1859, having the bay modestly renamed after himself for sometime after his purchase, this following his building of Cliffbrook, the first house to overlook the sea, on an estate of eleven acres.

Gordon's Bay today makes for an interesting contrast to that of 1883 seen below with Cliffbrook on the heights with its commanding views.

Cliffbrook would dominate the bay for another one-hundred and seventeen years until 1976 when, having fallen into poor condition, it was finally demolished to make way for town houses, with the principle reminder of its glory days being a set of steps leading down to the beach from the original old house.

Gordon's Bay and Cliffbrook with its commanding view over the bay, seen here in 1883

Clifftop view over Gordon's Bay with Coogee around the corner beyond.

As we headed out along the path from Gordon's Bay, the birdlife became more insistent to be taken notice of with them seemingly as inquisitive about us as we were of them.

Red Wattlebird, Anthocharea carunculata, note the red wattle on the neck just below the pale white eye patch, is a common and very conspicuous large grey-buff honey eater with a long pale tipped tail. These nectar feeding birds are so unusual to anyone familiar with northern-hemisphere species, with no nectar feeders in that part of the world.

A male Superb Fairy-Wren, Malurus cyaneus, is one of the ten varieties of Fairy-Wren to be seen around Australia and have a stunning almost iridescent blue set of markings around the head and neck that catch the eye immediately, A simply beautiful bird!

The next bay around the corner was Clovelly Beach and home to one of the first life saving clubs in the world, Clovelly Surf Life Saving Club, founded in 1906.

Any Poms from Devon will be immediately familiar with a beach resort called Clovelly as we have the small village of that name on the north coast of the county close to Bideford, but quite different from its Australian cousin.

Bathers enjoying the delights of Clovelly Cove, circa 1900

However an aspect of this and other resorts along this coast that was immediately familiar with those at home were the sea-water lido's like the one seen below, and I see that Clovelly also has a bowls club as well.

Looking down into Clovelly Cove from the next set of cliffs as we walked on round to Bronte Beach

The view from the cliffs between Bronte Beach and Clovelly, with Waverley Cemetery on the left and Bondi Beach in the distant cove beyond

The Feral Pigeon, Coloumba livia, is an introduced species, no doubt from home. In the UK these chaps are now having to stay alert in cities and on cliffs like this one, close to Waverley Cemetery, as Peregrine Falcons will predate them as the opportunity presents, and this one was looking rather nervous.

Waverly Cemetery, modelled on the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and the Kensal Green Cemetery in London is on the cliff tops overlooking Bronte and was opened in 1877.

It is one of the most beautifully positioned cemetery's I have ever seen with its glorious views over the Tasman Sea, and a site containing over 90,000 burials and interments, dominated by mid to late nineteenth century white marble monuments and headstones.

Whilst thoughtfully reading the various eulogies inscribed on the various tombstones and monuments overlooking the cliff path, my eye invariably turned skyward as various unfamiliar floating shapes passed overhead or the flash of colour shot across the path ahead like a passing tracer bullet disappearing into the scrub close by.

Perhaps this Brown Falcon, Falco berigora, seen cruising the cliff tops near Waverley Cemetery and Bronte Beach was the reason why that Feral Pigeon was looking so concerned when I saw him. This common large falcon has a fairly broad diet of small mammals, birds, lizards, snakes and insects, so maybe an unwary pigeon would make a nice change.

Overhead a familiar shape, that echoed the Peregrine falcons that now, thanks to protected species legislation back home, have returned to the Devon cliffs and beaches, hove into view, as the similar profile of an Australian Brown Falcon easily cruised the cliff path on gently warm thermal breezes coming in off the sea and explaining the nervous look of a nearby feral pigeon.

New Holland Honeyeater, Philidonyris novaehollandiae, took a bit of spotting at first with its darting movements from flower to flower as it sipped the nectar.

Whilst my gaze skyward fell to the nearby bushes as fast jerky moving shapes flitted among the nectar bearing blossoms and I managed to get the camera ready in anticipation for one of the shapes moving towards one delicate flower head, and was stunned by the gorgeous colours of a New Holland Honeyeater, probing the flower heads with a long delicate tongue for their sweet nutritious draught.

Another male Superb Fairy-Wren. See what I mean about those colours - stunning bird! Narrowly voted Australian Bird of the Year in 2021, narrowly defeating the Tawny Frogmouth as Australia's favourite bird.

Then just as suddenly a shock of azure blue whizzed across the path to announce the arrival of the star performer of the day, and boy did he know it, as the exquisite male Fairy Wren landed to remind me who in fact was the most stunning chap on the block, happy and confident enough to sit close by to have his portrait composed, as his more conservatively plumaged mate sat nearby observing her consort strutting his stuff.

Not far away was the much plainer female Superb Fairy-Wren perfectly camouflaged for sitting the nest

Whilst enjoying the ornithology show put on by the local birdlife, we inevitably made our way towards the next cove on our route, that of Bronte Beach, where the surf was definitely up and the locals were happily putting on their own display of skills with the board, which was most enjoyable to watch from the cliffs above.

Bronte Beach and the surf was definitely up

Sat astride Nelson Bay the nearby suburb of Bronte once topped a list of 641 local areas to Sydney as being the best place to live in 2008.

Surfs Up!

The Bronte Life Saving Club established in 1903, lays claim to being the oldest life saving club in the world, with an annual long distance ocean swimming event held in December between Bondi and Bronte, and the other significant claim for Bronte being the invention of the 'Australian Crawl' swimming stroke, first demonstrated at Bronte Baths in 1899.

Looking back at Bronte Beach as we headed off for a well earned lunch at Bondi Beach around the next corner.

As if to emphasise its swimming heritage, we were greeted at Bronte by perhaps one of the best of class locally, the Great Cormorant, who along with his undoubted swimming skills could also throw in a fantastic ability to dive and catch fish, all carried out with grace and aplomb that would be worthy of any Olympic swimming championship event.

A stunning Great Cormorant, Phalacrocorax carbo, greeted us on the path to Bondi. The largest cormorant in Australia, the bird dives for fish at depths of up to twenty feet and can be submerged for up to twenty-eight seconds.

As well as the cormorant, we were greeted by another great show-off in the bird world as a bobbing Willie Wagtail hopped across our path, very similar in gait to the familiar British Pied Wagtail, but having a very pronounced set of 'eyebrows' that immediately suggested the bird's assertive reputation which seemingly declared his 'don't mess with me!' approach to patrolling his patch.

Further along the path we were greeted by this Willie Wagtail, Rhipidura leucophrys, rather similar to the British Pied Wagtail with its constant dipping up and down of its long black tail, as it chased flying insects. Known to be aggressively territorial this plucky little chap with his serious eyebrows is more than willing to harass much larger and formidable opponents such as the kookaburra and even wedge-tailed eagles!

Making our way up the path on to the next cliff top as we neared Bondi, I noticed a long line of buoys bobbing off shore, indicating the anchorage of beach-bather protecting shark nets, which reminded me that these waters are home to some of the largest and most formidable sharks in the world, something we don't have to worry about much at home, but if temperatures continue to rise, and British waters are certainly a lot warmer these days, then who knows what the future might hold.

Buoys off Bondi probably marking the line of the controversial shark nets that some claim to be very effective at keeping the apex predators away from bathers while others object that the nets take a terrible toll on marine life caught up in them. 

Passing the next cliff top lookout point we could see other walkers gazing along the coast towards our goal, Bondi Beach, and, as if to welcome us at the end of our walk and the promise of a well-earned lunch to look forward to, a break in the cloud cover out to sea, that seemed to suggest a much brighter afternoon ahead.

A familiar site in New Zealand this Australian Magpie, Gymnorhina tibicen, was totally absorbed by a water bottle put down on the wall by another group of walkers as they were equally absorbed in taking pictures of Bondi Beach.

Turning the corner, our first glimpse of Bondi Beach.

My first impression of Bondi as we got to see more of the beach and neighbouring town as the view of the bay opened up before us was one of familiarity but with an added glow of glamour that such a famous place gifts to the first time visitor.

As with the coming of the railways and more leisure time for workers in Britain led to the British summer beach holiday culture, so the coming of the Sydney city tram and a similar desire to get away to the coast for 'Sydneyites' created towns like Bondi, and by 1929 an estimated 60,000 people were visiting the beach each summer weekend.

An estate auction advert from 1923, heralding the growth
of Bondi as a summer resort town

With the increase in folks wanting to spend time at the beach and in the water, Bondi would experience the debate over indecent beach attire close up, as the boundaries between acceptability and decency in public reached a peak in 1907 with the Sydney bathing costume protests that would set the tone for suitable beach attire enforced by local government acts until its inevitable demise in the face of the post-WWII generations demands for more freedom of expression, coupled with the new fashion, named the bikini, after the famous nuclear test atoll, and having a similar effect on Western Beach culture from the 1960's on.
With sky starting too brighten above, bathers flock to Bondi for a dip.

The just over half mile long beach at Bondi attracts thousands of folks each year to enjoy the delights of the beach, but that enjoyment doesn't come without an element of hazard, with the ever present risk of sharks evading the offshore net that doesn't extend right across the bay, to the infamous rip current, humorously known as the 'Backpackers Rip' given that the area affected is close to the seafront bus stop.

On the 6th February 1938, on what became know as 'Black Sunday', five people drowned and over 250 had to be rescued or resuscitated after the beach was struck by very large waves that literally dragged people, close to shore, back into the sea.

Our view out over Bondi and the poolside swimming club that is 'Icebergs' where we enjoyed a great lunch to conclude our walk from Coogee.

On our visit, we happily contented ourselves with a spot of paddling and promenading, that after a very pleasant lunch at the Bondi Icebergs Swimming Club, founded in 1929 and offering a beachside balcony dinning area overlooking the club sea-filled lido pool and beach.

Needless to say, we both slept very well that night after all that sea air, sunshine and walking and the pleasure of seeing such a beautiful part of the world.

Next up: Carolyn and I continue the adventure with a flight into Australia's 'red centre' in the footsteps of intrepid explorers and a visit to some very special Aboriginal cultural sites.

Friday 21 April 2023

All at Sea - Scenario Design Thoughts for Alexander at Bay

One of the many projects I've been working on whilst completing my collection of age of sail miniature ships has been something long in the planning but that was put on the back-burner for a number of years whilst I awaited the launch of a range of models that would compliment the idea I had in mind.

The British packet ship Antelope, chased by the French privateer schooner Atalante in the Caribbean during one of our playtest games for my scenario collection at the DWG. Some of the great collection of models from Warlord Games that helped bring this historic action to life

When Warlord Games launched their collection of 1:700th models that allowed for the modelling of actions ranging from the great sea battles of the era to the much more common single ship and small squadron encounters I was immediately re-enthused with the idea of building a set of single and squadron ship encounters gleaned from the historical accounts of William James and his Naval History of Great Britain; that would allow the recreating of these historical actions, but with all the appeal to the eye that this scale of miniature facilitated in bringing these dramatic actions to life, while providing an informative, entertaining and mind challenging experience along the way.

In addition I wanted to make it very easy to pull out a scenario to take to club to play, that had all the set up information and background, the necessary analysis to produce a realistic measurement of success and failure based on what was at stake for the respective commanders, and all the factors they had to take into account, married with a set of ship sheets that reflected the historical statistics of the historical ships portrayed.

Kiss Me Hardy and To Covet Glory form the basis of my scenario planning

This structure was to be built around my preferred set of rules Kiss Me Hardy and To Covet Glory which are great fun to play but, given the age of the original set, are in need of a few additions to bring them into line with more modern sets, that take into account fleet and squadron morale without detracting from the charm and appeal of the original set, which has been a labour of love over the last few years playing them on a regular basis.

Just recently I sat down to start work on some additional scenarios to add to the collection, now numbering fifty-two, and I was looking to work up a squadron scenario, useful for a club game where several of us all want to play in the same game, but with something a bit bigger than a frigate, and focussed my attention on a scenario that Jack and I play tested way back in 2020 on my table at home, with mixed success, and that left me not entirely satisfied that I had captured the look and feel of this encounter.

The Alexander dealing out destruction to the Droit's de l'Homme in my first attempt at replaying this interesting encounter in 2020.
JJ's Wargames - All at Sea, First Games & New Rules

We used a different set of rules that day and I didn't have the structure I have since incorporated for setting up these encounters based upon reading books such as Sam Willis, Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century, The Art of Sailing Warfare, and the set of ideas made available from Curs'd Captain, in their free publication 'Narrow Seas, but seemingly no longer available following a recent check on Wargames Vault.

With reading books like Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century from Sam Willis and scenario construction for Small Actions from Curs'd Captain, my own scenario design has benefitted from those and other ideas that I have used as a common structure  

Since those early test games I have settled on the process of classifying each scenario set up as either a Chase or Meeting Engagement with the option left open to players to revert to either option as the game develops and the victory parameters are changed through circumstance, hence a captain may decide to run from an opponent with the upper hand in a meeting engagement, turning the scenario into a potential chase should the opponent choose to contest the attempted escape or the alternative where a chase turns into a meeting engagement when the quarry turns hunter perhaps due to damaging a pursuer sufficiently to allow him to counter-attack.

The Alexander at Bay game report can be read here on the DWG club blog 
Devon Wargames Group - The Alexander at Bay

With the scenario 'Alexander at Bay', and the game we played just recently at the DWG and reported on the club blog in the link above, I laid out the description of events recorded by James, which on first reading would appear to be a Chase scenario, plain and simple, which is the way Jack and I originally played it.

However on a more thoughtful read it soon becomes obvious that Captain Bligh soon realised that flight was useless given the poor sailing qualities of his flagship the Alexander, and at some point he would be forced to turn and fight, immediately creating a meeting engagement, but one with some interesting twists.

So the first decision point was to have the chase set up constructed around that decision point reached by Bligh, with the Droit's de l'Homme closing to bow chaser range and sniping away at his rigging with the other French 74's in hot pursuit. This also required the poor sailing quality of the Alexander to be reflected in her basic speed of ten centimetres, two centimetres slower than all the other third rates on the table.

Let battle commence at the DWG with the respective forces set up ready to go.

Before taking the decision to turn and fight, Bligh signalled his colleague and subordinate Captain Hamilton to close with him to present a formed defence against the onrushing French, a manoeuvre frustrated by Rear-Admiral Nielly who positioned his pursuing group in between the two British ships to prevent any such idea, however the signal put a requirement on Captain Hamilton to support Bligh as best he could and not simply run leaving the beleaguered Alexander to its fate, thus not leaving that option available to the British until compelled to by a failed Squadron break off test.

The latter point refers to my other main incorporation into my house rules covering fleet and squadron actions based on Preservation Point Values used to assess the break off point reached by a fleet commander when he assesses the losses suffered are too great to continue and thus signal a general retreat to the surviving force. This calculation resulting in a score of 3.3 PPV's for the French, with a third rate equivalent to 2 PPV and a flagship 3PPV meaning any two French ships (4 PPV's for two French 74's or 5 PPVs if one of them includes the flagship) striking would force a break off test.

Battle well and truly joined in our game, Alexander at Bay at the DWG

Likewise the British calculation resulted in 2.5 PPV meaning that, based on the values above, should the flagship Alexander strike, the Canada would be forced to test to break off, but the loss of the Canada would not prevent Bligh from continuing to fight.

This break off test puts a pressure on both opposing commanders to go full in to win once the Alexander and Canada turn to fight, with the British looking to take the two leading French pursuers out of the attack and hope that the others leave them to their fate by being compelled to break off, but failing that seeing the French looking to gang up on the British quickly to prevent such a threat and to take either both of them or at least the Alexander thus forcing the Canada to attempt to run and potentially face a pursuit to prevent her escape, that would bring in the 'escape rules' for such occasions to determine if that will occur over two turns following the declaration to escape being made, with failure resulting in the striking of the attempting escapee.

One final point worth stressing is that these third rates are not the more powerful types that came to typify the two navies in the later Napoleonic era and their hull factors and gunnery stats reflect ships with a tonnage of around 1600 tons bm., rather than the later ships up to and around 1800 tons bm. 

Also the ships take into account the better training of the two British crews, still only rated as 'average' and not elite Jolly Jack Tars, again reflecting the early part of the war when crews were still working up their greater percentage of landsmen recently 'volunteered' for service in the navy and so the five French ships rated average Sans Culottes, reflecting these crews being the best the French dare send out at this stage of the war, make this a very well matched action, with both sides able to take advantage should the opportunity present.

This is a basic summary of my thinking when constructing the games we have been playtesting at club and so far it has been really great to see the players quickly identifying how best they should make use of their respective strengths to overcome the weaknesses of theirs and their opponents forces and to perform better than their historical counterparts, perhaps the best way to assess victory or defeat when recreating these historic encounters.